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Full text of "MUSIC HALL STARS OF THE NINETIES"

780.922 L6l9m 



52-36246 



7S0.922 1619m 52-362^6 

Le Roy 

Mtisic Hall stars of the nineties. 

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Public Library 

Kansas City, Mo. 



TENSION ENVELOPE CORP. 




5-4-- 



MUSIC HALL STARS OF THE 
NINETIES 




BESSIE BELL WOOD 



MUSIC HALL STARS 

OF THE NINETIES 



By 
GEORGE LE ROY 




LONDON 

BRITISH TECHNICAL AND GENERAL PRESS 
87 GLOUCESTER PLACE 

W.i 



First Published in 1952 
Copyright. All rights reserved. 



Printed by 
WILLIAMS, LEA & Co., LTD., Clifton House, Worship Street, London, E.C.2 



CONTENTS 

Page 

List of Illustrations . . . . . . . . . . 7 

AUTHOR'S FOREWORD . . . . . . * . . . . 9 

Chapter i MARIE LLOYD . . . . . . . . 1 1 

55 2 DAN LENO . . . . . . . , 13 

a, 3 THE LUPINOS . . . . . , . . 15 

j, 4 CHARLES COBORN . . . . . . 17 

55 5 HARRY LAUDER. . , . . . . . 19 

55 6 GEORGE MOZART . . . . . . 21 

, 5 7 ALBERT CHEVALIER . . . . . . 23 

,, 8 KATE CARNEY . . . . . . , . 25 

,, 9 ARTHUR ROBERTS . . . . . . 27 

10 DR. WALFORD BODIE . . . . . . 29 

5 5 ii JENNY HILL . . . . . . . . 31 

55 12 HARRY RANDALL . . . , . . 33 

5 ? 13 HARRY HOUDINI . . . . . . 35 

35 14 EUGENE STRATTON . . . . . . 37 

35 15 HARRY TATE . . . . . , . . 39 

5, 1 6 BESSIE BELLWOOD . . . . . . 41 

1 7 LITTLE TICK . . . . . . . . 43 

55 18 TOM COSTELLO . . . . . . . . 45 

55 19 JOE ELVIN . . . . . . . . 47 

55 20 CHUNG LING Soo . . . . . . 49 

55 21 VESTA TILLEY . . . . . . . . 51 

5, 22 G. H. CHIRGWIN . . . . . . 53 

j, 23 THE SPECIALITY ACTS . . . . . . 55 

24 THE SPECIALITY ACTS (continued] . . 57 

25 SOME LADIES OF THE HALLS , . . . 59 

BIBLIOGRAPHY . . . . . . . . 61 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 



( The photographs of Marie Lloyd, Jenny Hill, and Mr. and Mrs. 
Chirgwin are reproduced by courtesy of Aiiss Lesley Elliott.) 

BESSIE BELLWOOD . . . . . . . . . . Frontispiece 

(Mander and Mitchenson Collection) 

MARIE LLOYD . . . . . . . . , . Facing p. 1 1 

(Photograph, W. V. Amey, Portsmouth) 

DAN LENO *. .. .. .. ,. .. 13 

(Photograph, Ellis <2? Walery. Mander & Mitchenson 
Collection) 

CHARLES GOBORN . . . . . . . . . . 17 

(Mander <S? Mitchenson Collection) 

HARRY LAUDER . . . . . . . , . . . . 19 

(Photograph* W. Whiteley. Mander 2? Mitchenson 
Collection) 

ALBERT CHEVALIER . . . . . . . . . . 23 

(Mander & Mitchenson Collection) 

JENNY HILL . . . . . . . . . . . . 31 

(Photograph, Sarony, New York) 

EUGENE STRATTON . . . . . . . . . . 37 

(Mander <2? Mitchenson Collection) 

CHUNG LING Soo . . . . . . . . . . 49 

(Mander & Mitchenson Collection) 

MR. AND MRS. G. H. CHIRGWIN . . . . . . 53 

(Photograph, Harm, London) 

PAUL CINQUEVALLI . . . . . . . . . . 55 

(Photography London Stereo Co. Ltd. Mander & 
Mitchenson Collection) 

VICTORIA MONKS . . . . . . . . . . . - 59 

(Mander <Sf Mitchenson Collection) 



FOREWORD 

The Author has had a long connection with " The Pro 
fession, 55 having made his debut in 1903* His parents 
were both Music Hall Artistes and he made early 
acquaintance with many of the stars with whom from time 
to time they were associated. Later he himself appeared 
on many bills with some of them and formed friendships in 
several instances that lasted for many years. Consequently 
he was able to study personalities both private and pro 
fessional from a " close-up " point of view. Changes in 
forms of entertainment and technique have come about 
and, of course, have produced their prominent personalities* 
It cannot, however, be gainsaid that " The Music Hall " 
of yesteryear prospered to a greater extent and held a wider 
appeal when it could call upon the wealth of varied talent 
provided by 

THE MUSIC HALL STARS OF THE NINETIES. 



London, W.6. 
August, 1951 




MARIE LLOYD 



CHAPTER ONE 
MARIE LLOYD 

THE late lamented Marie Lloyd, or as she was affectionately 
known to the public and " pro " alike, " Our Marie," must 
surely occupy- a place among the Immortals. She was the 
absolute consummation of artistry, able to portray with equal facility 
the Lady of Fashion and the Cockney " Drab " type, and truly earned 
the title of " The Bernhardt of the Halls." 

Marie was born in 1870 just plain Matilda Alice Victoria Wood, 
in a humble street in Hoxton, her father, known as " Brush " Wood, 
being a maker of artificial flowers. Marie was one of a large family 
of boys and girls, several of whom followed Marie into the profession 
later and achieved considerable success. 

As a child Tilly was always the leader in the usual pranks and 
would often dress up and act for the amusement of her brothers, 
sisters and playmates. In fact she made her first appearance as a 
performer with a minstrel troupe which she formed, entitled the 
" Fairy Bell Minstrels," and the scene of her debut was Nile Street 
Mission. She then sang a song " Throw down the bottle and never 
drink again," but unfortunately History does not record whether 
there was an epidemic of " Drunkards 5 Remorse " or any sudden 
rush to join the local Band of Hope, as a result of that effort. 

In due course, after several decidedly unsuccessful attempts to settle 
Tilly into various factory situations and following upon a few minor 
engagements, Tilly informed her family that she was going ** on the 
Halls " and thereupon adopted the name of Bella Delmare. Her 
first Music Hall engagement was at the age of 15 at the " Grecian," 
a hall attached to the " Eagle " Tavern in City Road, London. 
Acting later upon the advice of a manager she took the name of a 
Sunday newspaper of the period and became Marie Lloyd. An 
engagement at " The Star " Music Hall, Bermondsey, came later for 
which she received the large amount of fifteen shillings for the week. 
Although she was then singing songs of other artistes, Marie quickly 
progressed and in the same year she was engaged at " The Oxford," 
a music hall the site of which is now occupied by a Lyons Corner 
House at Tottenham Court Road. 

ii 



Within two years Marie was earning 100 a week and was well 
booked ahead. 

Marie was married thrice, her first husband being Percy Courtney, 
a non-professional whose only claim to our notice is that he was the 
father of Marie's only daughter, known to us as Marie Lloyd, Junior, 
a well respected fellow cc pro." Alec Hurley, a lovable artist with a 
sweet voice and a fine delineator of Cockney characters, next led 
Marie to the altar. A few happy years together followed but 
unhappily a clash of temperament between these grand folk led to a 
separation. Alec died of pneumonia not very long after and Marie 
married Bernard Dillon, a jockey and trainer of some note in those 
days, who died a few years ago. 

Marie's later years were marred by ill-health and although her 
artistry was as evident as ever there were indications to those in her 
immediate circle that the little woman they loved was fading away. 
Marie died in 1922 and her funeral was attended by 50,000 people, 
a considerable number of whom were in tears. 

So passed away a grand soul whose unbounded generosity to the 
innumerable " pensioners " she adopted and indeed to all who had 
a tale of woe to tell, left little in her purse as a consequence. She did, 
however, leave one thing that is of greater value than lucre, in the 
still persistent affection in which her memory is held. My own 
acquaintance with Marie was a passing one when as a very young 
performer I fell in love with her blue eyes and golden hair, and 
although, like thousands of others who fell, I quickly recovered, I am 
still proud to have been on the same bill with her. So, I feel privileged 
to pay my humble tribute to a great artiste and a woman with a 
heart of gold. 



12 




DAN . LENO 



CHAPTER Two 
DAN LENO 



ONE of the strongest pillars upon which the Music Halls of the 
" Gay Nineties " were built was undoubtedly Dan Leno, King 
of Comics and Comic of the King. For he became known as 
" King's Jester " following a command performance at Sandringham 
before King Edward VII. 

Dan was born in 1860 at Eve Court, St. Pancras, now occupied by 
St. Pancras Station. His real name was George Galvin and his 
parents, who were minor performers as "Acting and Singing Duettists," 
were known professionally as Mr. and Mrs. Johnny Wilde. Dan was 
a tiny little chap and was often stowed away in the chest of drawers 
when his parent^ went out. This habit of putting him in the drawer 
must have stood young Dan in good stead, for a few years later, his 
father having died, the boy, at the tender age of 4, made his first 
appearance as " Little George, the Infant Wonder Contortionist and 
Posturer" at the long-defunct " Cosmo theka " Music Hall in Bell 
Street, Edgware Road; the site has now been taken up by Paddington 
Baths. The engagement was a joint one with his mother and he 
appeared in a set of tights, made by her from an old pair of silk 
stockings and joined together to fasten round his neck. 

On a later occasion she stripped the cover from a carriage umbrella 
and made him a costume from that. His mother married again; 
this time a Mr. Grant who worked as Leno, a name that was to make 
history in our business. Many were the vicissitudes and experiences 
met with by young Dan, and he knew what it was to sing in and 
outside public houses and even to turn a " cartwheel " in the street 
in order to gain a few coppers. At one time he performed with a 
brother as " The great little Lenos " and later, as the superb dancer 
he was, won a silver championship belt and appeareJCas cc Champion 
Dancer of the World." The belt was eventually won by a contem 
porary clog dancer, Frank Leon. 

Dan's first London engagement was at " The Foresters " Music 
Hall in the East End, where he sang two comic songs each night and 
gave an exhibition of his Championship Dance, for which he received 
5 for the week. That was in 1885 and an engagement at the " Old 

13 



Mo " or " Middlesex," afterwards Winter Garden, in Drury Lane, 
followed and proved a stepping stone to fame and fortune. Dan had 
found his true metier, which was character comedy in the real " red 
nose " style. His number would appear, then music, and suddenly 
a diminutive figure would run upon the stage in a series of funny 
little jerks, a slap down of a comically shod foot and there stood our 
idol. A darting look here and there and the house rocked. 

One title he richly merited was " Garrick of the Halls, 55 for not 
only were his characters built upon his knowledge of the types he 
portrayed, but his make-up and ability to convey that knowledge to 
the audience bore witness to his acting capabilities. Quaintly funny 
though he was, yet there was something of the pathetic about him. 
Later years saw Charlie Chaplin convey some memory of his style of 
clowning, for Dan was not only a comedian, he was the Clown of 
clowns and the very grotesque of all grotesques. From 1888 to 1903 
Dan was an institution in the annual pantomime at Theatre Royal, 
Drury Lane, and there he entered into partnership with Herbert 
Campbell to form a combination that has never since been equalled. 

Dan was generous to a foolish degree where a story of hard luck was 
told to him and perhaps because he had " suffered the slings and 
arrows of outrageous misfortune " himself, became easy prey. 
Following upon continuous years of hard work, tragedy overtook poor 
Dan in 1903 when he suffered a mental breakdown and had to retire 
for treatment for some time. His return to the Halls showed all too 
plainly to his countless friends that the beloved little man was not the 
Dan Leno they knew best. In 1904 Dan Leno passed away, mourned 
by all classes, and the many thousands who lined the route from 
Brixton to Tooting Cemetery on the day of his funeral testified to the 
affection and esteem this man held in the hearts of the people. 



CHAPTER THREE 
THE LUPINOS 

I HAD almost written " The Lupino Family/ 3 but realised they 
are not merely that but a tradition with a capital " T." A 
tradition which the surviving members., and the profession they 
have so greatly adorned, must be very proud of. Long before the 
first of them came to our shores as an exile in the reign of James I, the 
name was well known in Italy where they were hereditary puppet 
masters and mimes. Georgius Luppino, unable to speak our tongue, 
was arrested as a suspect, but his powers as a mime conveyed quite 
clearly to the Court his actual status and he was granted a licence 
to perform. 

In 1648, he played what was No. i date of the period at 
St. Bartholomew's Fair, Smithfield. The bill describing his perform 
ance is still in possession of the family. His son, Charles Lupino, 
spelt with only one " p," was some years later placed in the stocks for 
failing to renew his licence. En passant, I dare to invite some wordy 
warfare in suggesting that the aforesaid Georgius introduced Punch 
and Judy to this country as " Squire Punch/ 5 although, among other 
derivations, the Encyclopedia Britannica gives the choice of Puccio 
d'Aniello or Punchinello, a leader of strolling players in Italy who 
was probably known to Luppino. 

Throughout succeeding generations the family has been a prolific 
one; each and every one has been well and truly wedded to the 
profession in the fullest sense, as all have married actresses, both 
vaudeville and play. Within my recollection George Lupino, who 
died 1932, was prominent in my earliest days when panto reigned 
at " The Britannia," Hoxton. He was a remarkable star trap per 
former and one of his more notable feats was to stand upon one spot 
and propel himself round in an astonishing number of pirouettes, 
while the audience chanted the number. 

On one occasion he is reported to have performed the feat 
270 times upon a pocket handkerchief. Barry, Mark and 
Stanley were his sons and like the father accomplished in practically 
every branch of the business from scene painting to clowning, and 
what superb clowns they were and are. Stanley passed away within 



recent years but certainly left his mark in both film world and musical 
production. I had the privilege of playing solo in one picture, 
" Honeymoon for Three," and found him a very well-read man, with 
very definite views on the use of " blue " material which he told me 
was a comedian's S.O.S. 

He married Connie Emerald, one of the famous foursome and a 
fine artiste in her own right. The daughter Ida is of course the 
celebrated Hollywood star. Another Lupino, Harry, married the 
niece of Sara Lane, the proprietress of the " Brit " above mentioned, 
and herself an actress who would insist on appearing in her own 
pantomimes up to the age of 70. 

The union of Harry and Miss Robinson, the niece, was blessed by 
the birth of Lupino Lane (the Lane being added out of compliment 
to the great Sara). He is the " Nipper " we all know of" Me and My 
Girl " fame and truly he deserves it. His strenuous but unavailing 
efforts to restore the Gaiety Theatre to the scenes of former glory were 
not to be and must have made great inroads upon his resources. 
That great home of musical comedy is to be given up to offices and 
one deeply sympathises with Lupino Lane in the wrecking of his 
ambition. Mark Lupino was another talented performer of this fine 
family although he perhaps did not achieve the same height of fame 
as his brother Stan or cousin " Nipper." 

Barry is still with us and apart from his own ability as an artiste 
is certainly very worthy of our note here as the authority, not only 
upon the history of his own family but also upon the real origin and 
details connected with the more remote and, indeed, most abstruse 
matters connected with the industry of circus or music hall. I grate 
fully pay tribute to the late Stanley and to Lupino Lane for much of 
the detail given here. Long may we have a Lupino to grace our 
boards. I have heard it stated that there will always be a Lupino 
as they are so numerous that to count them at one time was a good 
substitute for sheep in order to induce sleep. Long may they wave. 



16 




CHARLES COBORN 



CHAPTER FOUR 
CHARLES COBORN 

THE Music Hall lost one of its stoutest pillars in November, 
1945, when Charlie Coborn passed away at the grand age of 
93. Colin Whitton McCallum, to give him his real name, was 
born of a Scottish father and an English mother, at Sidney Street, 
in the East End of London, in 1852. Upon leaving school, Charles 
spent his time in many and varied jobs, from City offices to com 
mercial travelling in commodities ranging from furs to tobacco pipes. 
He first became infected by the germ of things theatrical when, 
at the age of 16, he went with his father to a " Penny Reading" 
from popular works given by a Mr. Henry Wainwright, a man who 
was eventually hanged for murder. Visits to the tavern-cum-music 
halls abounding in the neighbourhood became the rule thereafter and 
among these was " The Artichoke " Tavern, later replaced by " The 
Foresters " Music Hall 

Charlie then attached himself to an amateur acting society and 
having gained some experience with that body, decided that he was 
competent to stand on his own feet as a " Singer and Reciter." His 
first music hall engagement was for two nights a week at " The 
Alhambra," at North Greenwich (Isle of Dogs), where, for ss. 6d. 
each night, he acted as chairman, artiste, waiter and, if required, as 
" chucker-out." That was in 1872. An " Irishman's rise " at 
2s. per night followed when he went to " The Sugar Loaf," Mile 
End, owned by a Mr. Lusby, who afterwards built " Lusby's Music 
Hall," later renamed " The Paragon," and then, as now, Mile End 
Empire, a hall the writer has played many many times. 

Charlie was then working as Chas. Laurie, but one day, whilst 
discussing a change of name with a friend in the street, the friend 
pointed to the name plate and suggested that Charlie could not better 
it as a pro's title. The road was Coborn Road, Bow, still in existence 
and, attached to Charles, the name was to make history. 

In spite of the usual " candid friends " who told him he would 
never make a comic, within four years, as a result of an audition at 
" The Oxford," Chas. was booked there at once for a period of six 
months and became a real star! 

c 17 



His world-renowned song " Two lovely black eyes," a parody on 
an American love song, " My Nellie's blue eyes," and his immortal 
" Man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo " were written by Fred 
Gilbert, who was inspired by a similar title of a book, written by a 
Mr. Wells who really did break the bank. The last-named was 
rejected by Charlie at first but the melody was so insistent with him 
that, at three in the morning, he went to Gilbert's house and told 
him he had changed his mind and would buy it at the usual price 
one guinea! Eventually he purchased the complete rights for tei 
pounds, afterwards receiving from the publishers more than 600 i; 
royalties. So much for the artiste. What of the man himself? 

Charles, whom I was privileged to call an intimate friend, \vas a 
complex mixture of Scots dourness, yet breeziness; quiet, yet full of 
fiery magnetism; taciturn, yet genial and, above all, deeply religious, 
but with no time for cant. His duties as sidesman at St. Mark's, 
Kennington, and later in West London in a similar capacity, did not 
deter him after church from visiting his " local " for a pint or sc wee 
hauf " with the best of them. 

He was ever to the fore in all that could advance the interests of his 
fellow artistes and was prominent as proprietor of The Music Hall, 
a journal devoted to matters connected with entertainment. He was 
also a Founder of the Music Hall Benevolent Fund and the first 
protection society, the forerunner of the V.A.F. This was " T^ 
Music Hall Artistes' Society." Charlie was connected also with 
Music Hall Artistes' Railway Association and, together with his 
Lottie Coborn, who predeceased him, was active with the ex 
Music Hall Ladies' Guild, a very fine charitable body. 

Charlie began with coster character numbers, but later gave sou, 
to Albert Chevalier and gave up working them himself. So much 
for a man who was a true gentleman in every respect. 



18 




HARRY LAUDER 



CHAPTER FIVE 
HARRY LAUDER 



HARRY LAUDER was born in August, 1870, at Portobello, 
one of a family of seven, his father being a potter. Upon the 
death of his father, Harry, then 12 years of age, became a 
breadwinner and took a job as a " half-timer " in a flax mill at 
Arbroath. Some time after, the family moved to Hamilton where the 
lad found a job in one of the coal pits. Although he had learned only 
too well " how the shoe pinched, 53 Harry was possessed of a natural 
buoyancy and found enjoyment in singing at his work as some escape 
from an otherwise dreary lot. He was then a member of a Band of 
Hope and it was at one of their affairs that he performed for the first 
time in public. 

Other folks also were attracted by his voice as the years went by, 
and the calls for his services increased to such an extent that Harry 
decided that these engagements should be made to augment his 
slender earnings at the pit. His fortunes progressed very smoothly 
for some time, until one day he was enslaved by a pair of blue eyes 
and dark curls from under a Salvation Army bonnet. 

Thus did he meet his wife to be, Nance Vallance, the 1 4-year-old 
Salvation Army lassie. They became sweethearts and in order to 
further his lovemaking, young Harry secured a job in another pit 
where Nance's father was a gaffer. A couple of years followed during 
which the lad firmly installed himself into her family's good graces 
with the result that permission was given for the young people to 
marry. Harry was 19 and his bride i6|. Lauder decided to become 
a full-time pro, and in partnership with a McKenzie Murdoch, he 
toured a concert party, parted with most of his savings, and returned 
to the pit. With an offer to join an established party Harry again 
essayed the path that was to lead him to the top. 

Several years as a solo act followed, during which he played in 
towns over the border as far down as Newcastle. Dennis Clarke, 
then proprietor of the famous " Argyle," Birkenhead, gave the gawky 
young Scot much encouragement and several engagements. A life 
long friendship was the result, and even when Harry could demand 
fabulous salaries, he would often go to play the " Argyle " for his 

19 



great friend for a salary that must have been microscopic by 
comparison. 

In 1909 Harry tried his luck in London and, arrayed in all his 
glory, arrived dressed as follows: shepherd-tartan trousers, brown 
boots, yellow spats, coloured waistcoat, stand-up collar with large 
square peaks, green and yellow tie, tile hat. Overcoat with 
astrakhan collar carried over the arm, and props and handbooks in 
a carpet bag! 

Harry some years later confessed that he was lucky in escaping 
arrest! A round of the agents convinced him that he hadn't a dog's 
chance of playing to a London audience, but one manager, to get 
rid of the awkward young Scot, took the address of his lodgings. 

Fate then took a hand and the said manager, a Tom Tinsley, of 
Gatti's Music Hall, Westminster Bridge Road, having paid off a 
" dud " comedian, gave Harry a chance as a substitute. Harry 
appeared and was a riot. Before the week had gone contracts for 
some three years' solid work were his. Everywhere he played success 
followed and the U.S.A. and Colonies went mad about him. He 
could command as much as 1,000 per week in later years. 

Lauder was knighted in 1919. Tragedy preceded that honour 
when, in 1917, on January ist, as he was about to take the stage at 
the London Hippodrome in the " Three Cheers " revue, he learned that 
his only son, Capt. John Lauder, of the Argyll and Sutherland High 
landers, had been killed in action. Like a real trouper Harry went 
on to sing " The Laddies who Fought and Won," his current patriotic 
hit. Lady Lauder died in 1927. Sir Harry died in the early part of 
1950, and Music Hall lost one of its most colourful personalities, the 
stories of whose meanness became a byword but whose generosity 
was well known. So the fine resonant baritone of the little Scot is 
stilled, the minstrel has sung his last lay, but no doubt Heaven and the 
High Angels are the richer for it. 



20 



CHAPTER Six 
GEORGE MOZART 

VARIETY lost one of its most kindly and genial souls in the 
passing of George Mozart, who died two years ago, aged 82. 
Born Dave Gillings, near Yarmouth, he played the drums at 
the old Theatre Royal there at the age of 9 for is. per night. At 14 
he was a member of the Prince of Wales's Own Norfolk Artillery, and 
frequently played at the Palace of Sandringham. Leaving the 
regiment, he went busking with a band of itinerant musicians, but 
soon afterwards graduated to the music halls via the rougher type of 
house. In this connection he has recounted the strange habit of 
English, proprietor of the defunct " Sebright," Hackney Road. The 
audience would express in emphatic manner their disapproval of any 
act they did not like. English had long given up any attempt to 
control his patrons, but would mark his opinion of the ec birded " 
artiste by sending for him. 

When he came to English, who was in the bar, he would receive 
a thorough blackguarding and naturally would retaliate. Pressure 
upon a concealed bell-push would result in the magical appearance 
of two hefty " chuckers-out " and poor " Yorick " would quickly find 
himself propelled down conveniently adjacent stairs and into the 
street. 

At first working with a partner, George eventually broke away 
with his burlesque musical act. 

He "was a clever clarinet player with a natural sense of fun and the 
ability to purvey it, which soon placed him in the front rank of the 
nineties. To within a few months of his death he was an active 
performer and during the late war did over 800 shows for the Forces. 

One night during the first world war when he was playing 
the Palladium, he got in the train at Waterloo en route for his 
home at Walton. He was carrying his recently published book. 
Two young officers returning from leave were in his carriage 
and were discussing the shows they had seen. One stated that he 
had been to the Palladium where, except for " that fellow Mozart," 
the show was rather good. " As for Mozart, I think he is a rotten 
act and ought to be pole-axed." " Now the fellow has written a blasted 



21 



book about himself, conceited ass." George controlled a rising gorge 
until the next stop where, in the dark, he alighted. Thrusting his 
face through the open window, he flourished his book with photograph 
on the cover and shouted, " You pair of idiots, call yourselves 
soldiers? Why, I was one before you were born and they taught me 
observation above all things. See that photo? That's me, George 
Mozart! For the last half-hour neither of you recognised me with 
all your talk. Observation, that's what you should learn. " And 
he stalked off in high dudgeon, only to discover as the train left that 
he had got out at Esher, some six miles from his home. He then made 
some observations himself as he trudged through the black-out. 

For some time in later years George was proprietor of a small 
hotel in St. Martin's Lane, but it must be feared that his boundless 
generosity to many hangers-on seriously affected any profits made 
in that capacity. In comparison with the aloofness of some of the 
present-day stars in their attitude to the small acts on the bill, he 
was easily approachable and very ready at all times to lend a sym 
pathetic ear and knowledgable advice to any fellow pro. 

He was a dapper little man, a bare five feet in height, but in stature 
as a good fellow he stood head and shoulders above many of his 
contemporaries. He has left behind a legacy of solid talent in the 
person of his grand-daughter, Charmian Innes, a comedienne who is 
frequently heard on the radio and who came to fame via the Windmill 
Theatre. It is pleasant indeed to recall memories of one whom I 
can state it was an honour to know. 




ALBERT CHEVALIER 



CHAPTER SEVEN 
ALBERT CHEVALIER 

A "".BERT CHEVALIER, whose real surname was Ingle, was 
born at Netting Hill in 1861. At the tender age of 8 he gave 
the first indications of his interest in matters histrionic when 
he, one afternoon, descended upon an unsuspecting father who was 
enjoying a quiet pipe in the summer house and began to recite a 
somewhat doleful and tragic poem, accompanied by suitable, or what 
Albert thought were suitable, actions. The result was, Ingle pere 
nearly laughed himself into hysterics and after he had recovered, 
secretly determined to encourage the youngster. 

He secured the boy a place in the programme of a local " Penny 
Reading " and at the age of 9 young Albert made his debut at a Hall 
in Netting Dale. Some years at school followed and he was then 
sent to a training college whence it was hoped that in due course he 
would emerge as a Roman Catholic Father. The idea was abandoned, 
however, and after some futile efforts to settle into commercial life, 
Albert secured a boy's part in a play with the Bancrofts, afterwards 
Sir Squire and Lady Bancroft, at a theatre off Tottenham Court 
Road, now swept away to become the Scala of to-day. He was then 1 5. 

Some years of hard work in various plays ensued, and the many 
types that Chevalier was called upon to play during that period gained 
for him that experience and facility to portray them which afterwards 
was to place him in the front rank. Albert at that time had written 
several songs, among them " Our 'Armonic Club" which was being 
sung by his staunch friend Charlie Coborn, a coster comedian on 
" the Halls." It was largely due to Coborn's advice that he eventually 
adopted the coster as the medium for his art, and it says much for 
the brotherly feeling of Charlie that he thenceforth gave up working 
coster numbers out of respect for his friend. 

Albert soon came to the notice of Charles Morton, a prominent 
figure in the Music Hall world, who offered him an engagement at 
the Alharnbra, which was rejected because Chevalier considered his 
act unsuitable for " the Halls." Later he accepted an offer to play 
at the London Pavilion, where he made his first Music Hall appearance 
in 1891. 

23 



As he waited for Bessie Bellwood to conclude her turn and listened 
to the back-chat and chaffing between that noted Cockney com 
edienne and the gallery boys who loved her, he felt some misgiving 
as to whether they would listen to his type of number. His first 
song, the tale of a Cockney courtship, entitled " The Coster's 
Serenade," soon convinced him that they liked it and he followed 
that with others in Cockney idiom. He received an ovation, for he 
had shown beyond all doubt that he knew his " barrow boy " of the 
day as well as they did. Indeed, at one time it was widely thought 
that he had actually come from Old Kent Road. 

In due course many other grand song pictures were " painted " 
by him, among them being " My Old Dutch," " A Fallen Star," 
" Mrs. 'Enery 'Awkins," and so on. The somewhat poignant story 
told by the first-named was afterwards made into a play and it may 
be interesting to note that I played in one of the adaptations by a 
repertory company at Collins's Music Hall in 1936. I have been 
saddened, sickened and disgusted more than once in recent years by 
the really ridiculous attempts by so-called impressionists to present 
what they fondly imagined to be a faithful representation of the great 
originator. 

The " Mrs. 'Enery 'Awkins " song originated from a walk home 
one night when Albert, passing through a narrow alley, came upon a 
young coster with his donah under the subdued light of a gas lamp 
and overheard a word or two of their lovemaking. The words were 
written bit by bit and completed by the time he reached home. They 
went crazy over Albert in America. His faithful accompanist and 
part author of some of his songs was Alfred H. West, an accomplished 
musician. Albert Chevalier died in 1923. His widow was Florrie, 
daughter of that " Lion Cornique," George Leybourne, of " Cham 
pagne Charlie " fame. 



24 



CHAPTER EIGHT 
KATE CARNEY 

IN January, 1950, the Music Hall world was left to mourn the 
death of a real old-timer, Kate Carney. Undisputed was her 
very lengthy reign as Coster Queen, and no other artiste so com 
pletely understood the type she so faithfully pictured. 

We journeyed happily with her in spirit when she sang of roaming 
all round the country selling her flowers at " Three pots a shilling," 
and eyes were wet when she plaintively warbled cc Are we to part 
like this. Bill?" two of many vocal cameos of the life she knew so well. 
The author was for a while privileged to be a member of her company 
some years ago and can testify to the affection in which she was held 
by a still clamorous public, although she was then approaching the 
age of 70! 

Kate Carney, or " Mums " as she was known to the members of 
her company, was originally known as Kate Paterson, her father being 
one of a male duo nearly a century ago. She made her first appearance 
at the " Old Albert," afterwards the Imperial, Canning Town, in 
1890, when she sang Irish songs. Incidentally, the stones used in 
the building of the theatre came from another Imperial Theatre in 
Tothill Street, Westminster, of which the famous Mrs. Langtry was 
proprietress. In due course Kate began to sing of the joys and sorrows 
of the Cockney in general, and the coster in particular. 

That she had chosen wisely was proved throughout her long 
service to her public, and her reception even within some four years 
of her passing was in no way diminished. The ovations Kate then 
received were not merely the signs of a sentimental regard for that 
long service, but very definitely a just meed of praise for the ability 
that was still hers, even then, to transport us back to more leisurely 
and colourful times. The coster of her songs with his donah was 
then easily recognisable as part of the London picture, in striking 
contrast to their nattily dressed and more sedate counterparts of 
to-day. 

Although she was an old lady when she last appeared, the entrance 
of that buxom figure gave no indication of the several illnesses she 
had suffered one upon another. Clad in a gown of gorgeous hue, 

25 



her head surmounted by a " cartwheel of a hat " generously trimmed 
with many coloured ostrich feathers, Kate stood embodied as the 
very spirit of Cockaigne. She was married while still in her teens 
to George Barclay, who died in 1 944. He was himself a typical little 
Cockney who originally hawked bags of sawdust to the publicans and 
costers, but eventually teamed up with a Walter Bentley and went 
on the Halls as " Barclay and Perkins, the Brewers of Mirth." Both 
Barclay and Bentley afterwards became very successful agents, and 
owners of racehorses. 

When Revue threatened to oust the individual turn, Kate Carney 
very successfully competed by producing her own, in most of which 
the plot, although hardly discernible, gave her the medium for her 
Cockney numbers and some spectacular scenes. In her last worth 
while production, " Crowning the Carnival Queen," her daughter 
Dolly, son Geox-ge and several grand-daughters and daughters-in-law 
were engaged, and Kate sang of the delights of " The Cockney Rag," 
a kind of strut around the stage with thumbs in the top of the waist 
coat, a catchy little tune and a crowd of coster lads and donahs to 
join in. 

Then the audience let themselves go with " Tanner the 5 alf a 
dozen," in which the scene showed an oyster stall illuminated with 
candles in glasses, a familiar sight to be seen up to twenty years ago 
when one could get oysters at that price. Then came " Mother, I 
love You," part of which was sung to her by her small stage son. 
A real " tear jerker " this, as our American friends would declare. 
" Somewhere in France, Dear Mother " was another epic she sang 
during the first world war. " Liza Johnson " was another great 
favourite. Indeed, every number she sang became popular, and the 
author in his professional capacity has proved upon innumerable 
occasions that the present-day audiences still love the songs this great 
artiste gave to them. 

Kate Carney broadcast several times and her diction made her an 
ideal radio artiste. She was 80 when she died and is survived by sons 
George, Harry, and Dick, and daughter Dolly. A motherly soul 
who personified the kindliness and chirpiness of the type she so 
beautifully portrayed. 



CHAPTER NINE 
ARTHUR ROBERTS 



of kings " truly described Arthur 

Roberts, who for several decades was the idol of the young 
c man about town " and the fashion plate for the well dressed. 
Born in 1852 at Bayswater of good Devonshire stock, Arthur was the 
youngest of a family of five, his father being a tailor at one of the 
exclusive Savile Row establishments. When father died leaving them 
very poorly provided, young Arthur was about 12 years of age. 
He determined to help the family exchequer as quickly as he could 
secure a job and became employed by a Govent Garden seedsman. 
A regular visitant to his neighbourhood was an old man with a 
portable harmonium who induced young Arthur one day to help 
him out by singing a song or two. The outcome of this was that he 
offered the lad i a week to join him in a busking expedition to 
Yarmouth. Here they performed on the beach with an old door for 
a stage, and Arthur not only benefited financially but his lung 
trouble, which had been under treatment at Brompton Hospital, 
disappeared for good. 

A few years at office jobs, including that of a moneylender, ensued 
until one day he decided that if he was ever going to wed the young 
lady who afterwards did become his wife, he would have to take a 
risk. He accordingly did the rounds of various singing rooms and 
having gained much experience and a correspondingly small amount 
of silver, eventually threw up his job and took an engagement at 
Greenwich. Arthur in due course arrived at the Oxford Music Hall 
as an extra turn, the engagement being in the nature of an audition. 
During the week Hugh Jay Didcott, one of the most respected agents 
of the day, saw him and interested many notable proprietors. 
Arthur's money jumped to 10 a week and within a few years he was 
getting hundreds. 

As a wit and a practical joker he was a master and in great demand 
even in Royal circles, where he was treated as a welcome friend. 
He became a vogue at the Gaiety where he reigned supreme master 
of burlesque. Kindly and tolerant as he was, he could not tolerate 
the harsh or intolerant. How he dealt with that kind of thing is 

27 



instanced as follows: " Trial by Jury/ 5 the Gilbert and Sullivan 
comic opera, was usually performed in aid of charity each year. 
During the rehearsal under the direction of the great but somewhat 
irascible Gilbert, who was always a martinet, Roberts had been very 
rudely spoken to by him and determined to put him in his place. 
Accordingly that evening Arthur, who was one of the jurymen, took 
his place in the jury box, calmly proceeded to take his boots off in 
full view of the audience and producing a piece of chalk wrote on the 
front of the box, " Call me at seven " 1 

Worse was to follow, for taking a pin from the lapel of his coat, 
he solemnly proceeded to eat a plate of whelks which he had secreted 
in the box. Poor Gilbert was frothing and foaming at the mouth 
when the scene came to an end, with the audience in hysterics ! 

In 1926, and for 17 months after, I was included in a 
company entitled " Veteran Stars of Variety," in which Lhad much 
opportunity to study the man whose name, when I was a boy, was 
a household word. 

His timing was superb and one look from a remarkable pair of 
twinkling eyes, a lift of his eyebrows or a slight inflection of his voice 
could prove devastating to the serious mood of anyone in his company. 
He died in 1933, and up to the last his wit was rapier-like and his 
humour inexhaustible. For some time Arthur was a member of the 
late G. B. Cochran's permanent company at the London Pavilion. 



28 



CHAPTER TEN 
DR. WALFORD BODIE 

DR. WALFORD BODIE rightly occupies a niche in our Valhalla 
of Victorian Variety. Of Scottish birth, he was Laird of Macduff, 
Banff; he died in 1939, at the age of 68. 

Long, fierce and wordy was the warfare between Bodie and the 
medical profession over his claim to cure many of the so-called 
incurable disablements, but he was never daunted by the attitude 
of the doctors. He stated that only upon one occasion did he feel 
insulted; that was when a subject under hypnotic influence wrote 
a cheque for 1,000 which he insisted on presenting to Bodie " as if 
I were an hospital! / am totally different from an hospital, i CAN CURE 
PARALYSIS!" 

Bodie commenced professional life as a conjuror, but later added 
ventriloquism to his accomplishments, using twelve figures and 
providing all the voices himself. He later ventured into research in 
the extensive subject of " Mind over Matter " and there can be little 
doubt after a perusal of his " Bodie Book " that his exploration was 
more than a superficial one. Spiritism, mesmerism, and hypnotism 
each came under examination and a fairly sound acquaintance with 
Materia Medica (he held an American degree) served to provide him 
with a strong foundation for his stage performances. Harnessing 
electricity to his use, he employed some huge and fearsome-looking 
high-tension apparatus by means of which he claimed to pass to the 
patient, via his own body, up to 25,000 volts. 

It seems that the Doctor might have killed himself in order to 
get a living! Coming to London in 1900, Bodie made a triumphant 
appearance at the <e Britannia Theatre," Hoxton, and I remember 
seeing the front of the theatre festooned with hundreds of sticks, 
crutches, irons, and other aids, which had been discarded by those 
he had attended. His methods were forceful, to say the least. Placing 
the patient under hypnotic influence, Bodie would reconnoitre the 
bone structure to ascertain the seat of obstruction and the best spot to 
manipulate. The limb would then be taken in his firm hands, 
sometimes there would be an audible breaking of bone adhesions. 
Sparks from the Doctor's fingers would be seen, and soon after the 

29 



subject would be restored to consciousness and totter, or maybe run 
from the stage, evidently cured. 

Bodie was assisted by his wife, " Princess Rubie " and his sister, 
" Mystic Marie " Walford, and in addition to his curative treatment 
presented telepathy and lightning cartoons. At the height of his 
success Bodie formed a company to manufacture and market his 
44 Electric Liniment 55 and various other medicaments, and friend 
Harry Coombs told me of an incident he witnessed when, homeward 
bound from his engagement at a neighbouring hall, he saw some 
students busy smashing the windows of the place in Blackfriars Road. 
In Glasgow the students tried to smash up his show. Bodie went on 
in spite of that attack and a lawsuit which followed. 

In that his veracity as author of the " Bodie Book " was severely 
challenged, with the result that he was compelled to admit that he 
had never been to New Mexico in his life; although he had taken 
great pains to recount his experiences there. However, no author 
should be judged too harshly for taking some licence, although 
occasionally the accent may be on the first syllable! 

Bodie was an impressive figure on and off stage. Immaculately 
dressed in frock coat and silk hat, with gold-headed walking stick, 
he had a fine face, a head of bushy hair and a luxuriant moustache 
of the Kaiser Wilhelm type. He was a superb showman and master 
of publicity without equal. Although somewhat austere at first 
meeting, a more intimate acquaintance discovered an innate courtesy 
and kindliness. 

Whether or not he deserved the epithet of charlatan or any of the 
derogatory things said or written, it must be acknowledged that as 
a Music Hall celebrity he had a staunch following and was greatly 
respected by his fellow artistes for what he was, a fine performer, a 
clever and a good man. 




JENNY HILL 



CHAPTER ELEVEN 
JENNY HILL 

THE first woman to be acclaimed " Queen of the Halls " was 
Jenny Hill, who was also the first to be described Comedienne. 
Of very humble origin, her father a cab minder and tout, she 
was born in Marylebone in none too salubrious surroundings, her 
playground the street; her constant companions, the pangs of hunger 
and cold. While but a child she was found an engagement in a 
pantomime at the " Aquarium," Westminster, upon the site of which 
the Central Hall and Headquarters of the Wesleyan Movement now 
stands. 

Later she was apprenticed to a Bradford publican whose treatment 
of the waif-like little soul w r ould to-day have soon brought him into 
conflict with the authorities. Her day began at 5 a.m. with cleaning 
the bars, glasses, and scrubbing floors. At opening time, very often 
without breakfast, Jenny helped to serve drink and between whiles 
had to sing to the customers. Often, in spite of regulations, business 
would be extended to the wee small hours with Jenny in attendance 
throughout. 

Eventually her five years* bondage came to an end, and in due 
course she got married to an acrobat who promptly deserted her when 
her baby was born; she never saw him again. Scraping together a 
few pounds, Jenny returned to London where she at once began the 
weary round of the Music Hall agents without success. One of the 
gentry with considerable booking influence became annoyed at the 
persistence shown by her and in order to get rid of her gave Jenny 
a note to a prominent proprietor, a Mr. Loibl, telling her that some 
extra turns were required by that worthy. The note stated that the 
bearer was becoming a nuisance and there was no necessity for Loibl 
to bother to see her! 

Loibl decided after seeing the note to see Jenny, and what he did 
see was a pale, careworn wisp of a woman desperately anxious to 
convince him of her accomplishments and longing to get back to her 
baby who had been left in charge of a kindhearted neighbour. He 
decided to give her a chance that night and fortune was with her, for 
she met with a tremendous reception, the audience clamouring for 

3* 



more. Jenny actually sang herself to a standstill and came off hardly 
able to stand. In fact, George Leybourne, the great " Lion Corruque, 
practically carried her on to receive the acclamation of the tolk in 
front When at last she made her exit the truth came out; poor 
Tenny was nearly starving. Loibl quickly remedied matters in that 
respect, gave her lucrative contracts there and then, and presented 
her with the note the agent had written to him. Jenny read it and 
promptly fainted. 

Her success from that time was, however, assured and she rose to 
eminence and affluence. Many and varied were the songs she sang, 
the best remembered being the tuneful " Maggie Murphy s Home. 
As a descriptive actress her marked ability was shown in her rendering 
of " Masks and Faces," an epic portraying the virtuous maiden s 
downfall and the punishment of the villain responsible. 

A remarkable coincidence occurred in that connection when Jenny 
was playing the Canterbury Music Hall, on the bill of which house 
was also appearing a trick cyclist named Letine, who, in addition, 
was engaged at another Hall. 

Completing his hurried journey from the latter in time to make 
his appearance after Jenny, he alighted from his cab clad in overcoat 
under which was his stage costume. He had paused to take a breath 
of fresh air when a wild-looking man seemed to appear from space 
and, flourishing a knife, stabbed Letine several times in the abdomen 
A few minutes later he died and it was afterwards proved beyond all 
shadow of doubt that Jenny's rendering of the concluding lines: 
A stab, a gasp and all is o'er 
In the play of" Masks and Faces " 
practically synchronised with the actual murder! 

The years of privation undergone by Jenny, coupled with the 
strenuous nature of her work, ultimately forced her into retirement 
and in 1896, aged 46, she passed from life's stage, greatly mourned 
by an adoring public. Her daughter, as Peggy Pryde, achieved some 
fame on the Halls and was the wife of Maurice De Frece, a 
well-known agent. 



CHAPTER TWELVE 
HARRY RANDALL 

A NOTABLE figure and contemporary of Dan Leno was Harry 
Randall, a strong contributor to the comedy side of Victorian 
Music Hall. Born in 1860, he was intended to be an heraldic 
artist and engraver of precious stones. A true Cockney, he was born 
at High Holborn, thus within the sound of Bow Bells. At 1 7 he made 
his first appearance at a Temperance Concert and sang a heart 
rending number entitled " Under the willow she lies weeping" and 
his services were secured gratis for the next concert, which was a 
charity benefit. To his chagrin he was then billed as " Funny Little 
Randall," a title that unintentionally but very aptly described him 
in after years. 

Having equipped himself with suitable material, Harry decided 
to try his hand as a comedian, and the good offices of a pianist friend 
obtained for him a fairly regular place in the numerous " Harmonics," 
Club Concerts and Masonic programmes of the times. Friendship 
with an old pro, Sam Sutton by name, who was officiating as chairman 
at " Deacon's " Music Hall in Rosebery Avenue, then opposite the 
present Sadler's Wells Theatre, led to an offer of engagement at the 
first-named which Harry, after much hesitation, accepted at the 
salary of twenty-five shillings for the week. His reception induced 
the manager to prolong the engagement for a further three weeks 
and Harry was inundated with offers from other directions. 

During his first real Music Hall engagement, Harry was proceeding 
home after the show when he was suddenly called upon by two shabby 
and suspicious-looking individuals to stop. Upon doing so he was 
told to open his bag at once and the two detectives, for that was 
what they were, stood off at a respectable distance. As Harry produced 
costume, wig, etc., etc., all concerned had a good laugh when it was 
explained that the men were really on the track of some Fenians 
who had been causing no little trouble with some indiscriminate 
bombing. 

It appeared that, seeing Harry emerge from the music hall, they 
had even questioned the attendant as to whether he really was a 
funny man. The eventual demand for his services led to the engage- 
is 33 



ment of a regular coachman to drive him from Hall to Hall, and in 
that connection Harry has recounted how one night his regular man 
sent a deputy, owing to an increase in his family. Harry, in order to 
ensure that he would be on time for each of his engagements, asked 
the deputy, "Are you sure you know your way about London?" 
Like a flash came the reply : " Know my way abart London ? 'Course 
I do, guvnor! Blimey! I bin in India four years! " With wit so 
plentiful a commodity in those days, Harry instances his friend, Hyram 
Travers, a pearly king comic, as a real master of repartee and relates 
that a certain agent who had risen to affluence was as careless of his 
personal cleanliness as he was his aspirates. 

Having bought a racehorse, he was boasting of that fact to Hyram 
and complained that he couldn't decide what colours to adopt and 
enquired what Hyram suggested. Travers exclaimed: Green and 
gold, same as your teeth." As Harry's experience widened so did 
his fame grow, and within a few years he was firmly installed year 
after year in panto at the " Grand," Islington, now known as 
Islington Empire, a " talkie " house. 

Eventually he was engaged with his friend Dan Leno at Drury Lane, 
where he shared the honours for several years with the former, who 
was his great bosom pal. Randall sang many really funny songs, 
but the characterisations were more memorable than the numbers, 
perhaps with the exception of one or two. These included " Man, 
by one who loathes 'em," " You 'ave to 'ave 5 em," " Drink, by one 
who has had some," etc. One song of a topical nature lived and 
died in a night. 

This was an effusion dealing with a man named Piggott who had 
disclosed some letters which showed Parnell, a famous political 
leader, in discreditable light. The song caused a sensation but the 
letters proved to be forgeries and the police raised hue and cry for 
Piggott. The morning after his success with the song, Harry read 
that Piggott had committed suicide. 

Harry joined a syndicate with Dan Leno and other stars and built 
Clapham Grand, Granville, Walham Green, and Groydon Music 
Halls, but lost money over the venture. Most comics in panto in 
his day used their opportunities to advertise local tradesmen for 
which they received much in cash and kind. One worthy very 
strenuously glorified the products of the chemist and grocer but was 
sadly disappointed when presented with seven pounds of Epsom salts 
by one and a bladder of lard by the other. Harry died in 1932 after 
some years of retirement, aged 72. 



34 



CHAPTER THIRTEEN 
HARRY HOUDINI 



THE poem declares that " Stone walls do not a prison make nor 
iron bars a cage." Houdini was a living testimony to the 
truth behind that statement, for no man in his or, indeed, at 
any time escaped from so many seemingly invincible fastnesses of 
prison or manacle. 

Ehrich Weiss, to give him his baptismal name, was born in U.S.A. 
in 1874 and was the son of a Jewish Rabbi of Hungarian origin. At 
an early age Ehrich was employed at a locksmith's and gained 
elementary knowledge of the mechanism of locks and the use of the 
picklock. That he added very considerably to that knowledge in 
after years is amply proved by the disclosures concerning his escapes 
made by his intimate friend, Mr. J. C. Cannell, in his Secrets of 
Houdini, the only book giving the exposures to many of Houdini's 
tricks. 

Young Weiss was first attracted to conjuring after reading a book 
by a famous French magician called Robert Houdin, whose life story 
is still to be found on sale. As a result the C Great Houdinis " 
came into existence with various card and other small tricks, and 
engagements were mainly in the beer halls where Ehrich, or Harry- 
as we shall now describe him, performed with his partner Hayman. 
A disagreement with Hayman eventually terminated their con 
nection and Harry was thrown upon his own resources. He certainly 
needed plenty of that quality, for he experienced many setbacks and 
hardships ere he was given even a small place in the scheme of Music 
Hail. At one period he was compelled to accept a job with a circus 
and became a sort of Poo Bah, his duties including the operating of 
ce Punch and Judy," presenting his magic, and playing the part of a 
wild man captured in the jungle, in which capacity he was exhibited 
in a cage eating raw meat ! 

At one time Harry was so hard up and hungry that he offered to 
sell his escape secrets to some newspapers for a few dollars. Fortunately 
for the profession he so greatly adorned his offer was not accepted. 
An escape in later years from handcuffs in Chicago was a highlight 
in his career and led to other engagements in which his escapology 

35 



became the main feature. Houdini came to London in 1 900, spending 
all his savings to do so, and his reception was at first very lukewarm 
until he demonstrated his ability to free himself quite easily from our 
regulation handcuffs, when people began to sit up and take notice. 
Important engagements here and abroad came his way and by that 
time Harry had so developed his knowledge of manipulation of every 
conceivable kind of lock and manacle that he was able to make the 
most astounding and daring of challenges and assertions, all of which 
he never failed to justify. Whether interned in an iron box, boiler, 
the last rivets of which were driven home in full view of the audience, 
manacled with leg irons and locked in a safe or a packing case, on 
stage, in the open air, or under water, Houdini effected his escape. 
In Russia, Cannell records that he was manacled and locked in a 
van which w r as lined throughout with zinc, yet he defied everything. 
Naturally, Harry had several imitators, among them John Glempert, 
a Russian, and there was also a lady. Houdini' s brother, Theo 
Hardeen, who was for a while his partner, also came over here and 
did a similar act, although he had none of the brilliant daring, the 
breathless suspense, and the masterly showmanship so inseparable 
a feature of Houdini's presentation. The exposure of fraudulent 
mediums was a matter to which he gave much time and thought, 
and he would often demonstrate that practically all the phenomena 
produced by those gentry could easily be produced by himself. 

Harry was, however, greatly interested in the genuine mystical and 
carried on a lengthy correspondence for many years with his great 
friend, the celebrated Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle. The strenuous 
nature of his work demanded that he should be in the very pink of 
condition and there is no doubt that Harry had a splendid physique 
and stamina, allied to a Yogi-like ability to ignore pain and dis 
comfort to an astonishing degree. That gift, because he was 
unprepared to apply it, failed him on one occasion only and resulted 
in his death. 

Having heard that Houdini could withstand very hard blows on 
the stomach, a student who was visiting him in his dressing room at 
Montreal suddenly struck him several sharp blows which a few days 
later proved fatal. And so, in 1926, Houdini died and a master 
deceptionist, showman and a clean-living man left the Halls much 
the poorer for his passing. He was the greatest of all escapologists, 
and there has never been one to even faintly challenge his supremacy. 




Still In the Running, 

EUGENE STRATTON 



CHAPTER FOURTEEN 
EUGENE STRATTON 



THE poetry of motion was never better demonstrated than by the 
feather-light feet of Eugene Stratton, a performer whose 
consummate artistry has become a tradition in the Variety 
profession. 

Stratton was born near Niagara Falls in 1861, and as a boy put on 
his first black make-up. Later he became one of The Four Arnold 
Brothers and then a member of Haverley's Minstrels. He came over 
to London in due course with that troupe, but at twenty years of 
age transferred his talent to the Moore and Burgess Minstrels, a 
famous company then appearing at St. James's Hall, Piccadilly. 

Part proprietor of the troupe was George Washington Moore, other 
wise " Pony " Moore, a nickname attached to him on account of 
his ability in earlier days with a circus to drive forty ponies at once. 
Stratton eventually became his son-in-law. 

After some ten years with Moore and Burgess, 'Gene decided to 
try his luck on the Halls and made his first appearance with white face, 
with no great success. He began to make better progress when he 
returned to the burnt cork, and meanwhile having developed a very 
fine and powerful whistle, he was able to give it prominence in the 
first of his early successes, " The Whistling Coon," written by Sam 
Raeburn, a friend and fellow minstrel. Stratton went on from success 
to success, but the zenith of his career was reached when Leslie Stuart 
began to write his songs. The ever-tuneful melodies of " Little Dolly 
Daydream," " I may be crazy, 95 and the immortal " Lily of Laguna," 
helped to set the seal of stardom upon him. 

In spite of the romantic atmosphere surrounding the latter, it 
must regretfully be recorded that although Laguna is said to actually 
exist, it is in the nature of a swamp infested with insects, and not at 
all the place where a Lily of any kind would choose to exist. However, 
the appeal of the tune will always compensate for any licence taken, 
and there is no doubt that of all the songs Stratton sang, e Laguna " 
is the best loved when community singing is being indulged in. 

Stratton did not have a powerful voice but it was sweetly wistful 
and, coupled with his wonderful agility and ability as a dancer, 

37 



succeeded in captivating his audiences wherever he went. He could 
also claim a fine sense of the dramatic as instanced in his scena, " The 
Horse Thief," when he sang " I may be crazy," and, hunted though 
he was for the crime he had committed, he felt compelled to pay one 
last visit to his lady love. We all felt that if he delayed his flight for 
just a moment or two more it would be too late and he would be 
captured by the posse which was, we imagined, on his very heels. 

" The Dandy Coloured Coon," " The Coon Drum Major," and 
" My Little Octoroon," were other songs that fitted this fine artiste 
like a glove. It cannot be denied that Stratton was a great artiste, 
but it is problematical whether he would have achieved the heights 
that brought him salaries of over 300 per week if Leslie Stuart and 
he had not met. Unfortunately, the association came to an end over 
a quarrel concerning racing matters. 

Stuart achieved considerable success as a composer with C Flora- 
dora," " The Bandolero," and many other beautiful creations, but 
died a very disappointed man with very little tangible result to show 
for his valuable contributions to light music. His songs linger on 
and in doing so never fail to conjure up for those who saw him, a 
vision with ebony face, literally floating on his feet from one side of 
the stage to the other. 

A worthy, indeed the best, exponent of Stratton' s style of dance 
still performing is that grand artiste, G. H. Elliott, maybe slightly 
more gaily boisterous with his songs than 'Gene but undoubtedly the 
only man who could faithfully remind us of him. 

Stratton died in 1928, but will long live on in the melodious 
memories he has left of an artiste without equal and one of the Variety 
firmament's brightest stars. 



CHAPTER FIFTEEN 
HARRY TATE 

RONALD MACDONALD HUTGHINSON was a Scot by birth, 
and was intended to be a marine engineer. He was, however, 
in due course employed at Tate and Sons, the sugar refiners. 
His contacts with professional circles were made by way of the smoking 
concerts and similar affairs at which he performed in the evenings 
as a mimic. He came under the notice of Marie Lloyd, who promised 
to secure an audition for him at the " Oxford," scene of many a pro's 
emergence from obscurity to stardom. Remembering her own 
experience she urged Hutchinson to change his name to something 
shorter and, taking her advice, he adopted the name of his employer. 
His audition duly took place, with the result that he was able to 
give up his job and enter the profession as a fully fledged Music Hall 
artiste. Engagements at the more important of the Halls came his 
way and he was then billed as " Harry Tate, the Marvellous Mimic," 
giving impersonations of George Robey, Eugene Stratton, and other 
contemporaries. 

Later, Wai Pink, a prolific writer of sketches for Joe Elvin and 
others, wrote for Harry and thus provided the ideal vehicle for that 
supreme clown. " Motoring," " Billiards," " Fishing," and " Wire 
less " each provided him with opportunities to exploit his innate gift 
of burlesque acting, and laughter was assured whenever he was 
included in a programme. The extraordinary collection of natural 
eccentrics whom he employed to help, or hinder, was a notable 
feature of his sketches; and who can forget the supercilious school 
master who strolled upon the scene of Harry's motoring breakdown, 
nonchalantly striking a match upon the car ? Or the very squeaky, 
high-pitched boy played by his son, sitting in the back of the car 
with constantly reiterated " Yes, Papa," " No, Papa," or his many 
" Good-by-ee, Good-by-ees," although the contraption had not 
moved an inch nor seemed likely to do so ? The fearsome gadgets 
which conspired to defeat the optimistic Harry, who was expecting 
to get to Brighton somewhere within twenty-five minutes of leaving 
town ! 

His loud check suit and cap, with that monstrosity of a gyrating 
moustache, were all designed to win our laughter, and they did. 

39 



Marie Lloyd suggested the moustache when she saw him swimming 
in the Thames near her houseboat with a piece of weed tucked beneath 
his nose, and it became a permanent feature of his make-up. Without 
it we would not have believed it was Harry. Actually, Harry was one 
of the early motorists and was accorded the privilege by the police 
of having his professional cognomen on his car number plate thus, 
T.8. The police all knew of this and Harry was consequently always 
upon good terms with the men in blue and indeed appeared at some 
of their affairs, in festive mood of course. 

Harry Tate was a valuable asset to the box office always, but more 
especially in West End revue, appearing in such productions as 
"Business as Usual," " Razzle Dazzle," " Box o 9 Tricks," etc. 
He could also claim the unique honour of having appeared in no less 
than four Royal Command Performances and received several private 
invitations to appear before Royalty. At the former their Majesties 
were obviously overcome by laughter at his antics. Harry was an 
adept at the prompt and funny rejoinder, although he was without 
an ounce of rancour. 

A good instance of his overflowing sense of fun is recorded. Hurrying 
in his car to reach a provincial town where he had an engagement, 
Harry ran over a cat. From one of the adjacent cottages came a 
woman who picked up the deceased animal and brandishing it in 
Harry's face screamed: "See what you have done? This will kill 
my mother! "; to be met with the retort: " Well, don't let her eat 
it! " Harry was a kindly man much respected by his fellows, and 
one of the best storytellers in the profession when in good company. 
His son, Ronnie, who has inherited the mantle of his father, is really 
uncanny when heard on the radio, his voice almost convincing us 
that Harry the elder is once again with us. One quality that he care 
fully guarded throughout his stage career must be mentioned. This was 
his ability to create continuous laughter with material and situation 
entirely clean in character. 

We laughed at him and with him for the things that happened to 
him and were capable of happening to any one of us. Harry Tate 
died in 1940, aged 68. "A Clown Prince and a Prince of Good 
Fellows " might well be his epitaph. 



40 



CHAPTER SIXTEEN 
BESSIE BELLWOOD 

ONE of the most robust and tempestuous personalities of " the 
Halls " during the Victorian era was Bessie Bellwood. Born 
in 1860 plain Elizabeth Mahoney, Bessie's early years of a 
life that was all too short were spent in the Cockney atmosphere of 
Bermondsey and the " Cut/ 3 where she was employed as a rabbit 
skinner. With a natural flair for singing and portrayal, one of her 
earliest appearances was at the " Star/ 5 Bermondsey, in 1892, when 
she was engaged to deputise. The gift of a ready wit, the natural 
hallmark of a true Cockney, which in Bessie's case was allied to a 
wonderful fluency that cared nought for grammar or other such 
niceties, stood her in very good stead in circumstances which might 
well have dismayed artistes of lesser fibre. On one occasion the 
chairman, in his efforts to secure order, found considerable obstruction 
from a burly coalheaver who seemed determined to be a nuisance. 
Finding that the chairman was unable to obtain a hearing, Bessie 
shouted: " Leave him to me!" 

Then ensued a slanging match the like of which had never been 
witnessed in Bermondsey. The little ex-rabbit skinner tore the 
character of the coalheaver and his ancestors to shreds. She threatened 
to wipe the floor with him and " leave the place respectable." Reports 
agree that strong men turned pale and shuddered as the torrent of 
her wrath poured like hot lava from her lips, and the coalheaver, 
who by that time could barely heave a sigh, turned in sheer panic 
and fled as the " atom bomb " of abuse broke over his head. 

On another occasion, while dining at Romano's, she encountered 
a certain titled gentleman into whose ear she promptly sank her teeth, 
exclaiming: "That will teach you not to talk about my private 
affairs." On another occasion she had barely left the residence of 
Cardinal Manning when, overhearing a slighting remark passed by 
a cabman in reference to her male friend, she promptly knocked the 
offender down and gave him a thrashing. Bessie had much of the 
gamin in her Irish-Cockney rnake-up and that streak would often 
come to the surface, as, for instance, when invited to entertain a 
prominent nobleman and his friends she arrived and was greeted 



very disdainfully by the bewigged and powdered flunkey in all the 
glory of satin knee-breeches and silk stockings. Exclaiming: 
"Blimey! Where did they find this?" she promptly stuck a pin 
into his leg to " see if he was real." 

Vulgar she undoubtedly was and greatly addicted to use of " The 
Blue Bag " in her act, yet history acclaims her a really fine artiste 
with much of the talent of dear Marie Lloyd who was her rival, 
although Bessie was without that polish and sheer acting ability of 
Marie. In many ways she was the counterpart of Marie, with the 
same sense of pity and benevolence to the less fortunate. She literally 
gave away her earnings and frequently performed the most menial 
of tasks, even to scrubbing the floors when visiting some of her sick 
protegees. Bessie's greatest song success, " Wot cher Ria," told the 
story of a coster girl who, for one night only, decided to cut a dash and 
by purchase of a shilling seat was able to sit near the chairman at 
the local Hall. By present-day standards the song would be con 
sidered very feeble, but it certainly set the seal upon her success. In 
the song her pals in the gallery shouted : 

" Wot cher, Ria, Ria's on the job. 

Wot cher, Ria, did you speculate a bob ? 

Oh, Ria, she's a toff and she looks immensikoff, 

And they all shouted * Wot cher, Ria'." 

Irrepressible and unladylike though she often was, she held a firm 
place in the affections of her public. She died in 1896 and her funeral 
was attended by crowds as great as those which in later years followed 
that of Dan Leno. 



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN 
LITTLE TICK 

HARRY RELPH, to give him his rightful name, was born in a 
village near Sevenoaks, Kent, in 1868, of very humble parentage. 
The family moved to Gravesend several years later and it was 
in this town at Rosherville Gardens that as a boy he made his debut. 
While still in his 'teens Harry secured various engagements at London 
and provincial Halls. He had discarded his baptismal name in 
favour of Little Tich, a label that had been bestowed upon him on 
account of his smallness of stature and as topical allusion to the 
Tichborne trial, in which a fraudulent claimant to a large estate was 
occupying prominent space in the newspapers. 

Pantomime soon claimed him for leading parts and he quickly 
established himself as the main comedy ingredient. When he first 
started out, he tried out black-faced comedy and dancing, but following 
a visit to the States reverted to clean face plus the usual rubicund 
nasal appendage. 

Tich was a natural droll with a facility of expression and the ability 
to contort his diminutive body into the most extraordinary attitudes. 
Consequently laughter constantly punctuated his efforts to convince 
us that the trip over his train might happen to anyone, or that when 
the stick with which he banged the backcloth rebounded, hitting him 
in the face, it was a pure accident. Every kind of grotesque character 
was included in his gallery and one never saw such an outrageous 
duchess, ballet dancer, shopkeeper, or what have you, as he presented 
for our attention. For many years Little Tich was an institution at 
the Tivoli, the Pavilion, and Oxford Music Halls, and later at the 
Palladium. 

To watch him against the proportionately vast background of the 
Palladium stage lent additional diminishment of the little man, but 
far at the back of the gallery his comical face and voice could be seen, 
heard and appreciated. Tich was a very clever musician who could 
play several instruments, the 'cello being his favourite. He was also 
an accomplished linguist with several languages at his command. A 
most interesting companion, able to discourse and hold his own on a 
variety of cultural subjects, yet he was a quiet, undemonstrative fellow 

43 



in no way conceited or apparently aware that he was a star and therefore 
a being apart from the ordinary man, as some of his confreres thought 
of themselves. Physically, Tich was something of a freak, having an 
extra finger on each hand. He was extremely sensitive, and strangely 
enough resented being called Little Tich. Nor did he like the undue 
familiarities of the admiring back slapper. He was not as tempera 
mental as many of his fellows were, but on one occasion he uttered a 
strong protest from the -Palladium stage on observing an occupant of 
the stalls calmly reading a newspaper during his act. Although his 
brief lapse from strictly professional conduct may have earned him 
some managerial reproof, he continued to reign time and again at 
that house. 

Tich was a great favourite in Paris where he was as much at home 
as in this country. A regular feature of his act for the greater part 
of his life was the big boot dance, in which he used boots larger than 
himself and during the dance would suddenly shoot into the air and 
remain suspended, as upon a pair of stilts, on the toes of them. This 
was undoubtedly a very strenuous item and one which he had to 
delete in his later years. Chance Newton very aptly labelled him 
with a slogan which was always included in the billing of the little 
man. " One Tich of nature makes the whole world grin," said Newton 
and how right he was only those who saw Tich can testify. Consensus 
of opinion even in the palmy days of the Halls, when comedians were 
more plentiful and various than now, agreed that Tich was the supreme 
master if it was laughter you were after. He was honoured by 
inclusion in the first Royal Command Music Hall Performance in 
1912 and never did a craftsman more thoroughly deserve recognition. 
He passed away in 1928 and heaven's halls no doubt are happier for 
his presence. His son Paul died some two years ago. 



44 



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN 
TOM COSTELLO 



O 



NE of the most versatile artistes who ever graced the boards 
was Tom Costello, a native of Birmingham, of Irish descent. 
He was the actor, vocalist, sentimentalist and comedian par 



j 

His songs were in practically every instance enormous successes 
and the majority of them are still in demand to-day. Tom was, above 
all things, a master of detail, and not one of his characterisations was 
presented until he had woven into it all the accessories that were a 
natural part of each character. One can remember his " Strolling 
in the garden," in which he was supposed to be the young married 
man awaiting in trepidation the result of his wife's first confinement 
and having been turned out of the poor little bed-sitting-room which 
was the humble abode of the pair, he was hanging about in the rain 
" Waiting to hear the verdict " which was " One, two, three "! 

For that very homely picture, Tom had concealed in his hat a 
specially made 'tin vessel which permitted the water contained in it 
to trickle intermittently down his face and on to his clothes. He 
wore a macintosh which was given a touch here and there of vaseline, 
so that when the water dripped on it the impression that he was 
actually out in the rain, as per the song, was very real. 

His " At Trinity Church I met my doom " was another classic which 
never failed to raise considerable laughter, his characterisation of a 
man with a game leg and stick, stumping across the stage to express 
his indignation at the scurvy trick fate had played in leading him up 
the garden, or to be more accurate, to the altar with a female who 
seemed to have had too much of everything except the money she 
had misled him to think she possessed. That song, according to a 
statement he made to the author, lay in his bag for a considerable 
time, and it was due to an amusing incident happening one night in 
Manchester that Tom decided to include it in his programme. ^ 

Tom and another artiste were wending their way home to their 
" digs " after sampling a convivial drink or two, when Tom chanced 
to be humming to his friend a melody he had heard. A passer-by, 
who Tom declared was a very personification of the character he 

45 



afterwards used, stumped along in their path and as a result of the 
slight collision, he backed away a few paces and brandished his stick 
at the two artistes, mumbling \vhat he would like to do with them. 
Tom and his friend mimicked him in retaliation, using the bit of 
melody which now goes to the words, " At Trinity Church I met my 
doom" (music), "Now I live in a top back room." 

Meeting the same man the next evening, Tom apologised to him, 
took him and introduced him to a few glasses of much appreciated 
refreshment, and succeeded in inducing the man to sell his clothes, 
which included the " hard hitter," a hat which was a sort of hybrid 
top hat-cum-bowler, as worn at times by Mr. Winston Churchill. 
His " I'll stick to the ship, lads/' was another epic and his acting fully 
conveyed the picture of the wreck and the heroic captain. 

A cameo of different type was his "Joey, the clown " number, entitled 
" I was a Clown in the Christmas Pantomime," in which the poignant 
story was told of the old man who had once been the Idol of the 
Kiddies, and "was no longer wanted." This really fine character 
number was undoubtedly as finely drawn as " The Fallen Star " of 
Chevalier. 

During the Russo-Japanese War, when the author first appeared 
on the same programme, he was to the fore with " Good-bye My 
Little Yo San," in the garb of a naval officer leaving to fight the 
wicked Russians. He gave us also " I've made up my mind to sail 
away," the tale of the optimistic emigrant who hoped to come back 
a millionaire. 

Another comic study was that of the tramp who despairingly cried 
"What's the use of a ten pound note to a man like me?" in which 
he told of the threats to call a policeman when he tried to change 
that gift from an old and opulent friend. His magnum opus was 
generally considered to be " Comrades," a song which has come down 
the years and is as popular to-day as when first sung. Tom Costello 
had a pungent wit, and the ability when telling a story among his 
friends to so graphically decorate it with the mannerisms of the 
people who were part of the story that his hearers could almost 
swear that they had been present when the incident described by 
Tom had occurred. Unfortunately for the listener who was nearest 
to him, Tom would punctuate or emphasise particular points by 
prodding that individual here and there in the region of the waistcoat, 
so that to be in Tom's company for an hour or so could become a 
painful memory. In 1925, Costello became one of the Veteran 
Stars of Variety, a company with which the author had a very happy 
and enlightening tour of some months as one of the supporting 
artistes. 

Tom Costello died in 1943, aged 80. In his later years the slump 
in Variety had left him among the unwanted, and his circumstances 
were such that his "Joey, the clown " song proved to be very true in 
his case. He was laid to rest in " Pros' Corner," at Streatham Vale. 

46 



CHAPTER NINETEEN 
JOE ELVIN 

JOE ELVIN will always be affectionately remembered as a very 
prince of good fellows and a monument of benevolence. To 
paraphrase a well-known saying, " his charity began a home/* 
for in order to bring to fruition many years of untiring effort for the 
well-being of his fellow pros, he gave five hundred pounds toward 
the foundation of " Brinsworth," the Music Hall Artistes' Home at 
Twickenham. Many old performers, including former stars who for 
various reasons have fallen by the wayside, have had cause to bless 
his name. 

His proper name was Joe Keegan, his father being an actor who had 
graduated to the Halls, and as soon as he was able, Joe became a 
partner with him in a sketch act known as " Keegan and Elvin." 
Later on, Elvin became acquainted with Wai Pink, a very prolific 
writer of material, who became the author of several of Joe's more 
successful sketches, among them cc Over the Sticks," " 'Appy 
'Ampstead, 35 and " The Holy Friar." In each of these Joe had a kind 
of slogan which was reiterated many times, such as " I aint barmy!" 
and " I'm obliging my brother, I am." These were usually quickly 
taken up by the gallery boys and eventually passed into common use 
in the same manner as the present-day " Oh yeah " and C you're 
telling me," of our Americanised vocabulary. 

His ginger wig and rugged but homely features were frequently 
to be seen at the West End Halls, where he was just as popular as 
in the suburbs, and in spite of his position as a star, Joe was one of the 
most kindly and approachable individuals in the profession. Con 
sequently he was often lighter in pocket as the result of listening, as 
he too frequently did, to a well-told tale of hardship. 

Some years before he died he was the star attraction at a Hall in 
the home counties where the author was also engaged, and from 
information he had received concerning the stability of the manage 
ment he advised Joe to ask for an advance of salary during the week 
on the fictitious pretence that he was short of ready cash. He also 
suggested that Joe should request that the balance due at the end of 
the week be paid in cash instead of by a cheque which would probably 
" bounce." 

47 



Joe required much persuading to convince him that anybody 
would do him a bad turn, but eventually gave way. A cheque was 
proffered to him with the assurance that the cash would be in the 
bank to meet it. In spite of that assurance Joe had considerable 
difficulty afterwards in securing the amount due. 

He was founder of the Grand Order of Water Rats, the well-known 
society which was actually named after a pony belonging to him and 
so christened in friendly derision. From that fine organisation in due 
course emanated the Variety Artistes 3 Federation, The Music 
Hall Artistes 3 Railway Association and the Variety Artistes' Benevolent 
Fund and Institution. Joe Elvin, ever to the fore where the interests 
of artistes were concerned, became very prominent in the Music 
Hall Strike of 1907, when the various grouped syndicates and concerns 
controlling the more important Halls were forced to concede more 
equitable terms and conditions, which were afterwards embodied in 
an arbitrator's award. 

The close attention given without stint to the " other fellow's " 
affairs and the frequent inroads made upon his pocket resulted in 
Joe's need for a little help himself in his later years. A complimentary 
performance was given in 1923 at London Palladium, at which every 
star who could possibly appear did so in order to mark their apprecia 
tion of his efforts and to secure for him a financial anchorage in his 
old age. Sufficient was raised as a result to purchase Joe an annuity 
bringing him five pounds per week. He had then been fifty years on 
the Halls. 

The author frequently met him, always to be greeted with 
" Wotcher, boy! come and have a tiddley," and Joe would reminisce 
about the cc dud " cheque already mentioned. 

He passed away in 1935, genuinely mourned by his fellows great 
and small. His funeral was attended by many of his brother Water 
Rats, he having been King Rat in 1894. He was laid to rest in 
Streatham Cemetery. The great sadness felt by the many who 
attended the last rites was lightened somewhat by the humour of 
the irrepressible cockney, Charles Austin, who solemnly declared: 
" Poor dear old Joe. Ah well, he had a good innings," then turning 
to the grand old man, Charlie Coborn, he enquired: " 'ere, 5 ow old 
are you, Charlie ? " Coborn replied: " I am 83 "; instantly Austin 
retorted: " Blimey! it ain't much use you're going home, is it!" 
Coborn told the author the story, and agreed that dear Joe Elvin 
would have loved that last comedy touch. 



CHVft.0 UNO 

Soo, 




CHUNG LING SOO 



CHAPTER TWENTY 
CHUNG LING SOO 

WILLIAM ELSWORTH ROBINSON, professionally known as 
Chung Ling Soo, was actually born in the East End of 
London. In due course he took up his residence in the 
United States, where he operated as a " small-time " conjuror. One 
of the most important of the Vaudeville concerns had for a considerable 
time announced that negotiations were proceeding with the object 
of bringing over from China the world-famous magician, Ching Ling 
Foo. 

Robinson decided to forestall the Chinese master and to make a 
bold effort to place himself nearer the top of the ladder of fame. He 
therefore went to live in the Chinese quarter of San Francisco, where 
he made a fairly extensive study of the manners and customs of John 
Chinaman. Meanwhile the protracted negotiations with Ching Ling 
Foo were completed and eventually Foo arrived in the States. He 
did not stay very long, for Robinson, who in the meantime had adopted 
the name of Chung Ling Soo, had presented an act in which, garbed in 
gorgeous mandarin robes and with magnificent stage dressings, he 
performed most of the tricks and illusions that were the important 
features of Foo's act. 

From that time the fortunes of Robinson were secure and he 
performed all over the world. He was a most impressive figure with 
the naturally impassive manner of the true Chinese, and his mood 
was always the same whether on or off stage. The strangest factor 
connected with his adoption of the character was that the public, 
and his fellow professionals alike, really believed him to be of Chinese 
birth. He appeared costumed in the finest of silks, his attendants 
dressed similarly. He exhibited the normal appendages of the real 
native, with an expanse of naked scalp and a long pigtail. He spoke 
" pidgin English " and that very sparingly, for he travelled with an 
interpreter who would answer for him in most " conversations." 

Many of his fellow artistes never saw him as his ordinary self for 
he was seldom " out of character." As an illusionist he was a clever 
performer and a wonderful showman. He invented many of his 
illusions and had a small factory at one time in Roehampton. He 

E 49 



died as the result of the failure of the mechanism of a rifle he had 
invented, from which bullets chosen and marked by members of 
the audience were fired. He would stand with a plate held before 
him, the gun was fired at him and the plate smashed, but he would 
catch the bullets. At Wood Green Empire on March 23rd, 1918, 
the mechanism failed; Chung Ling Soo received the bullets in his 
heart and the world of Music Hall lost one of its cleverest magical 
performers. 

William Elsworth Robinson was not, as has been asserted, a 
Lancashire man, for the evidence elicited the fact of his East End 
origin. 



CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE 
VESTA TILLEY (LADY DE FRECE) 

VESTA TILLEY, born Tilly Ball, is universally and affectionately 
remembered in and out of the profession of which she was so 
eminent a figure for many years until her retirement in 1920. 
Other clever male impersonators there have been, but never one to 
equal Vesta Tilley for the sheer artistry that was hers. A quiet, 
almost subdued personality off stage, she was one of the real 
" troupers," very unselfish and always ready to forgo her own dues 
or comfort to help some other artiste. 

Vesta made her first appearance at the age of 4 years at Gloucester 
in 1868 in male attire. Her father was Harry Powles, professionally 
known as Harry Ball, a comic singer and sometime chairman. " The 
Great Little Tilley," as she was then billed, came to London and at 
14 made her debut at the " Royal Holborn, 55 a Hall later known as 
Holborn Empire which was badly damaged by enemy action during 
the last war and is to be converted to use as offices. 

Vesta Tilley then became known as " The Pocket Sims Reeves," 
and played two Halls each night. Practically from the date of her 
debut Vesta was in constant demand for Variety, which she occasionally 
deserted for pantomime, and what a principal boy she made. The 
lithe little figure with the swaggering strut which was and always will 
be considered the very pattern for all principal boys who wish to walk 
the stage properly, stood out like the giant she actually was in her 
artistry. She knew how to " dress and wear " the stage, be it Drury 
Lane or the smallest provincial one. 

While but a child she was engaged at a Hall in Leicester owned 
by a very eccentric being named Paul who acted as his own chairman. 
On her appearance in male attire he stopped her performance and 
ordered her to go and get properly dressed. The audiences who 
afterwards worshipped at her shrine would not, I am certain, have 
recognised her in any other guise than as the immaculate male, and 
she was the Beau Brummell of all immaculates. 

Vesta was a great favourite for several years in the Isle of Man 
and at one Hall sang to over ten thousand people. She also registered 
an emphatic success when she played in the States. Wherever she 

5 1 



appeared the local factory girls were always her most ardent " fans," 
although it might be more accurate to state that we were all equally 
slaves to this wonderful little woman. The author, during the first 
world war, had written a pantomime revue to be performed by and 
to his comrades at Christmas and secured from her the loan of her 
stage cloths which depicted a life-sized railway engine with buffet, 
etc., in view, which he had to collect from her chauffeur's home in 
Kensington, hiring a donkey and barrow to transport it to St. Pancras. 
Having seen it loaded, he departed for the Salvation Army hut in 
Euston Road and awaited the donkey's owner. The man arrived 
next morning, explaining the delay was due to the overnight enemy 
raid with heavy bombing, as a result of which, he stated, his donkey 
had fainted. 

The cloth eventually reached the Army camp, when it was found 
to be too large to use owing to the sloping roof of the large hut assigned 
as the theatre. To make up for that futile effort, Vesta made a gift 
of a handsome gramophone cabinet and records. Her songs, like many 
of those sung by her contemporaries, can still be frequently heard, 
among them, " Following in Father's Footsteps," which brings 
nostalgic memories of the slim little figure in straw hat with cane, 
exuding mischief; of another girl song, "Who Said Girls?", "The 
Piccadilly Johnny with the little glass eye," " The Army of to-day's 
all right," and so on. The swagger she employed in that number 
would have rejoiced the heart of the sternest sergeant-major. It 
cannot be surprising that, lovable personality as she was, her hand 
was eagerly sought, but she succumbed to the wooing of Walter De 
Frece, a fine figure and handsome man who was head of a large chain 
of Variety Halls. Walter, or Sir Walter as he became, wrote several 
of her greatest song successes. He died in 1935. Vesta Tilley made her 
farewell appearance at the London Coliseum on June 5th, 1920, when 
Ellen Terry, the famous actress, amid scenes of the wildest enthusiasm, 
presented her with a palm. She also received from the management 
some volumes containing the signature of two million of her admirers, 
and it has been stated that the floral tributes filled two vans. A 
wonderful tribute to a wonderful little woman. To-day in her old 
age she retains those endearing qualities that have always been so 
noticeable throughout her life. A dignity without austerity and a 
sweetness that serve to mark her right to the title of Lady, in the 
veriest sense of the word. God bless her. 




V WV > '.y, .p.-. ,-;" I;**;* ,f % ! 

MR. AND MRS. G. H. CHIRGWIN 



CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO 
G. H. CHIRGWIN 

ONE of the greatest favourites of Music Hall-goers of the 
halcyon days was Chirgwin, the " White-eyed Kaffir." He 
was the son of a Cornish boat-builder in the little town of 
Forth Leven, near Helston, who had been pressed into service by a 
travelling circus. The father stayed with the show for a considerable 
time, during which George was born. In his youth young George 
acquired a love for music which was to stand him in very good 
stead. He first performed to the public as a busker with another man 
as " The Brothers Chirgwin." 

Many are the stories told to account for the white diamond-shaped 
patch over one eye which was a regular feature of G.H.'s make-up. 
The tale which has persisted is to the effect that George had made up 
and was about to take the stage when a fly got in his eye. He 
hurriedly wiped the obstruction away and made his entrance to a 
prolonged outburst of laughter. As a matter of fact his entrance 
always did create an outburst mingled with applause, for no man was 
more popular with all parts of the house. Clad in a long heel-length 
coat of white with an extraordinary tall white top hat planted askew 
on his head, George appeared at first sight to be about ten feet tall. 
There would be a sudden throwing back of his head and his white 
patch would come into view. Strangely enough, his hat never fell 
off. Then would come his cheery: " Wot cher, Cocky," and he 
would sit and discourse upon anything and everything; generously 
sprinkling his remarks with puns of remarkable daring and potency. 
Daring, mark you, which had nothing of the salacious about it, 
but merely daring because of the extraordinary play upon words. 
He would then produce two clay pipes, with which, upon a tray, he 
would imitate a dancer most realistically. A weird contraption which 
he called " A Bom Bass " would then be used, and as it consisted of 
various strings, a bladder, and a brass cymbal, he really did get music 
from it accompanied by plenty of laughter. Then his piece de resistance 
came, either as " The Blind Boy " or " My Fiddle is my Sweetheart," 
in which his unusual falsetto voice took the closing strains. He was 
indeed a most versatile performer on 'cello, banjo, violin, and one- 

53 



string fiddle. He had a daughter, cc Clara Chirgwin, the White-eyed 
Kaffir's Brown-eyed daughter." Chirgwin left the Halls at the very 
zenith of his popularity and became " mine host " of a hostelry at 
Shepperton. He passed away in 1922 and his cheery " Good evening 
Ladies and Gempmums " was sadly missed. 



54 




PAUL CINQ.UEVALLI 



CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE 



THE SPECIALITY ACTS 



Cinquevalli 

PAUL CINQUEVALLI., whose act represented the acme of 
precision, was a star entirely without rival. Born in 1859, he 
was a German, his real name being Kestner. Rightly was he 
called " The Human Billiard Table," for his skill with billiard balls, 
indeed everything with which he juggled, was uncanny. The 
balancing of one ball on top of a billiard cue, and another ball upon 
the first one, always held the audience in suspense and his manipula 
tion of a cannon ball, which was caught on the nape of the neck, was 
not without some danger. Cinquevalli was originally an acrobat and 
trapeze artiste, but as the result of an accident had to forsake that 
line of business. A table, set as for a dinner with damask cloth, etc., 
and a lighted lamp in the centre, would be cleared at one sweep, the 
cloth actually taken from under the utensils with just a sudden flick 
of his hands. The laughter element was not lacking, as the apparent 
anxiety of Cinquevalli's assistant, who appeared to be on tenterhooks 
during the performance of each feat, was a source of great amusement 
always. During the first world war, with feeling running high against 
Germany, Paul suffered from a boycott, and although he had many 
friends in and out of the profession, it was generally agreed that as a 
result he died of a broken heart in 1918. 



Vasco 

Vasco, " the mad musician, 55 as his billing used to describe him, 
was always a welcome item on any bill. He used to play 25 instru 
ments in 20 minutes, and claimed that he could actually play 50. 
He was the father of Bert Vasco, the genial manager of the 
" Metropolitan " Music Hall and who was once an acrobatic artiste 
himself in an act styled " Alexander and Bertie." Vasco died in 1925. 

55 



Many have essayed the feats of Blondin, the famous tight-rope 
walker. He was as completely at ease in mid-air as on terra fama, 
and whether riding a bicycle with groove wheels, carrying a man 
across on his back, or cooking an omelette, he was fearless. He was 
a very popular man and he would stand upon his head, wheel a man 
over in a wheelbarrow, and generally disport himself to the wonder 
and fear of his audience. His greatest feat was the crossing of Niagara 
Falls, and he repeated it on several occasions. On one of these he 
carried a stove and cooked an omelette in the middle of his rope, 
which was 1,000 feet in length. On another occasion he essayed a 
passage along a 43o-foot rope suspended between the masts of a 
P. & O. steamship, while the ship was steaming along and rolling 
heavily. He did the double journey without mishap. 

Blondin, otherwise Emile Gravelet, was a Frenchman, born in 
1824. He was a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour. He retired, 
but resumed working when he was over 60. Blondin died in 1897, 
mourned by the many who had always found him to be the most 
unassuming and courteous of men. 



CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR 

THE SPECIALITY ACTS 

Hermann Untlian 

HERMANN UNTHAN (1848-1929) was born at Summerfeld, 
in East Prussia, without arms, to his parents' horror. The 
midwife offered to smother him in order to placate them, until 
it was pointed out to her that even a monstrosity could not be 
murdered with impunity. He took part in the usual childish games 
as he grew up, and on his father's instructions wore no boots or socks. 
One night the family were sitting at supper and his mother was 
passing the porridge to another of the family, when Hermann 
suddenly seized a " fistful with his toes >J (pardon the Irishism), and 
shoved it in his mouth. The father promptly ordered that he should 
be given a spoon and permitted to try and feed himself. He further 
declared that the lad was not to be assisted in any way, otherwise 
there would be himself to answer to. Neither would Unthan senior 
permit the boy to be shown any pity. With the utmost perseverance 
the armless boy soon found himself able to do most of the things 
possible for the more fortunate among his playmates. Naturally his 
disability made frequent calls upon his inventive powers, and in 
consequence he eventually learned to play the violin with his feet. 

As might have been expected, in due course he found employment 
with a circus, with which he travelled through most European 
countries and in the Americas. Coming to England, he was for a 
considerable time a great attraction with an extraordinary act in 
which he played violin, cornet, and piano, painted, shaved himself, 
and fired a gun, all with his feet. 

During the world war he offered to teach ex-Service disabled men 
in Germany how to use their limbs and was granted military rank. 

He died in 1929, having lived a most varied and exciting life. A 
man with similar disability named Elroy has for a good many years 
entertained with a very clever act, and is still in circulation. I have 
seen Elroy, buying a drink for himself or a friend, kick his shoe off 
and taking money from it elevate his leg and place the cash on the 
bar counter with his toes. Simple! But rather astonishing to the 
onlooker who hasn't expected it. 

F 57 



Batas 

Datas, otherwise John Bottle, was originally a worker in the gas 
works at Sydenham. Overhearing an argument one day in a local 
public house regarding the date of a certain event, John, who was 
quite a young fellow, volunteered the information that both disputants 
were wrong and promptly provided the date, together with other 
details which convinced the two men concerned that he was right. 
They tried him with other questions, and in each case he supplied 
the answer with little hesitation. By a millionth chance, one of the 
men happened to be an agent, and having learned something of the 
boy's background, spoke to the influential Charles Morton, who 
arranged for him to be given a try-out at the " Standard, 55 Pimlico 
(now Victoria Palace). Morton attended himself, and as a result 
gave him the name of Datas and an engagement at the Palace Theatre, 
where the boy remained for months on end. 

The author met Datas on tw r o occasions only, the first some 
twenty-five years ago, the last about six years ago, when in the 
company of a friend, he was in a well-known hostelry up West. In 
walked Datas, and coming up to the author's friend he greeted him 
and, turning to the other, exclaimed: " Now let me think. Ah yes! 
Mr. Le Roy, born etc., etc." Needless to state that although he was 
then nearly 70, his memory was not at fault. At present he is in 
retirement, hale and hearty and ever ready to prove that his wonderful 
talent is as effective as it was when he first tried it from the stage. 




VICTORIA MONKS 



CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE 
SOME LADIES OF THE HALLS 



Florrie Ford, nee Flanagan, was of Australian birth and one of 
the outstanding chorus singers of her day. Florrie had such a way 
with her, and sang her songs with such gusto, that even an audience 
of dumb folk could have been excused for trying to join in. In the 
Isle of Man for years she was a great attraction, and one's holiday 
there did not seem like one until an evening had been spent joining 
in the community singing of her numbers with the usual vast crowd 
enjoying that pleasure; Florrie 5 s buxom figure and lusty voice 
dominating the assembly. She emblazoned her own baptismal name 
throughout the land with the song " Flanagan," and in later years 
when she toured her own Revue. A Mr. Winthrop (how he \vould 
laugh to hear himself labelled thus), who with a partner was a member 
of her company, adopted her name and is now the laughable comedian 
and greatly respected Water Rat, Bud Flanagan. His partner was, 
of course, Ghesney Allen, now a prosperous agent. Florrie was 
married to a Mr. Barnett. She passed away in April, 1940. The 
mantle of that great and well-beloved artiste is to-day worthily worn 
by Bertha Wilmott, a chorus songster with a similar gift of voice and 
persuasion of her audiences. 

Victoria Monks was another striking and somewhat ebullient 
personality, whose songs added to the richness and variety of Music 
Hall fare in the days now past. Her " Won't you come home, Bill 
Bailey ? " continued to delight audiences long after its freshness had 
worn off. The author bought two copies of that song from a man who 
was selling them in the gutter. They were " pirated " copies, in 
other words they had been printed somewhere in an obscure cellar 
without permission or regard to the rights of the publisher who owned 
the copyright. Some years ago one of the two copies was handed to 
Victoria Monks when the author met her at Hampton Court. Other 
songs made famous by her were: " I ain't gwine to leave home in the 
rain," " Ain't I no use, Mr. Jackson ?" and " Give my regards to 
Leicester Square." Victoria married Karl Hooper, an agent, and 
had a son whom she sent to college. She was as free and easy with her 
money as with her manner, and was somewhat addicted to the company 

59 



of racing men of a certain type, which did not enhance her professional 
prestige. Victoria passed away in January, 1927, at the too early 
age of 43. 

Katie Lawrence, the original singer of " A bicycle made for two," 
would without doubt have been astounded could she have lived 
to see the wave that rose from the pebble she threw into the pool of 
popular vocalism when she carolled that song. It is indeed proble 
matical whether there is a song to-day in which the audience so easily 
join whenever it is included in a programme. Written by Harry 
Dacre, who had many other well-known numbers to his credit, the 
author firmly believes that " Daisy," to give its sub-title, has been 
sung in every known language, including Chinese! Poor little Katie 
was in demand for a considerable time as a result of that song, but 
eventually found there was less demand for her services and con 
sequently fell upon bad times. Help was readily forthcoming for 
her actual needs and she essayed a return to " Scenes that were 
brightest," but without success. She died in 1913. 



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Shake it Again 

The Melodies Linger On 

The Variety Theatre 



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